Introduction to Land Sailing
reprinted with permission
Sailing into the Mainstream
Mention sailing and what usually comes to mind? Colorful sails and sleek wooden or fiberglass boats, cruising through a setting of water, waves, and sea spray. That definition is now being challenged by a re-energized and exciting form of boating, known as land sailing.
Land sailers – also called land yachts, sand yachts, and dirt boats – are wheeled, cart-like boats that move by sail power on firm ground and paved surfaces. Once sailed almost exclusively in dry lakebeds, the new generation of land sailers have moved into urban areas and are now popular for sailing in parks, parking lots, and on hard sand.
Land sailing is becoming one of the hottest sports, and it's rapidly making a transition from a fringe activity to a more accessible and enjoyable sport for people of all ages. The sport naturally appeals to sailors who have honed their skills on the water. But there are a growing number of land sailors who are attracted to the sport by both the wind-driven power and the speed. The peace and solitude that comes with a wind-powered journey appeals to those who enjoy parasailing, hang gliding, and ultra lights. And the adrenaline rush associated with high-speed land sailing calls to those involved in other forms of Extreme Sports.
For those who thrive on high-speed thrills, land sailers can sail at up to five times the speed of the wind. Smaller boats run at two to three times wind speed. This means that a 15-mph wind can produce speeds of 40-mph or more.
Using the wind to propel a wheeled vehicle over land dates back to the Ancient Egyptians. More recently, land sailing became a popular "underground" sport in the 1960s and 1970s, as several companies introduced vehicles that were suitable for the dry lakebeds of the American Southwest, as well as the expanses of Australia and New Zealand. Land sailing also gained popularity in the UK and France. Many sailors also built their own vehicles from bicycle parts, wood, and other materials, creating a variety of unusual (and sometimes quite large) wind-driven vehicles. Today, various clubs and organizations exist to support the sport and foster competition among its enthusiasts, who are quickly growing in numbers and diversity.
Helping to revolutionize the sport and broaden its appeal is a new generation of land sailing "yachts", also known as micro-yachts. Unlike their predecessors, these new land sailers are relatively inexpensive, lightweight, and ruggedly built. Designed to disassemble quickly for easy transport, they can fit into the back of a car or on a roof rack. The new boats are easy to set up and sail, even to those with no prior experience.
A stand out in this new line is the high performance Sirocco™ from Wind Line International, an Illinois-based designer and builder of land sailers. Created in the suburbs of Chicago rather than the expanses of the western desert, the Sirocco was designed specifically to sail in a wide range of conditions. "We don’t have big open spaces here in the Chicago area," says Wind Line owner and land sail designer Dan Feldman. "Our goal from the start was to produce a land sailer that we could use in relatively small parks and parking lots, and on many different surfaces. At the same time, we wanted to build something tough enough to handle the dry lakebeds out west."
Like many new land sailers, the Wind Line offering includes three wheels, a suspended seat, and a sail. But two additional design features differentiate the Sirocco from the competition: a reefing sail and a brake. A custom-designed reefing system allows the sail area to be reduced in high winds, depowering the boat and making it easier to handle. This feature allows smaller and lighter sailers to handle the Sirocco in almost any wind condition.
Perhaps even more important to safe operation is the specialized braking system, which was previously absent in other land sailer designs. "We knew we needed a lot of power for certain surfaces, or large unrestricted areas" says Feldman, "but sailing in areas surrounded by concrete or populated areas meant we needed a positive, reliable way to stop the boat and control the sail's power. The reef and the brake were considered essential from sketch one."
Sailing in the Midwest brings the added variety of winter sporting opportunities. Wind Line is currently testing a performance blade package that will convert the Sirocco into an iceboat for winter sailing on the many regional lakes and rivers. Initial tests of the blades went well according to Feldman, but a lack of ice last winter delayed completion of the final design. The blade package is scheduled for availability this coming winter.